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Friday, November 28, 2008

The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend...

Woo-hoo! I feel gleeful. Ottawa is a-buzz with well-founded rumours that there is a coalition government in the works, and that it will take down Harper and his familiar, Flaherty, early next week. If so, the Governor-General will be faced with a decision on whether to call a new election (and spend another $300 million in taxpayer dollars) or allow the coalition to give governing a chance. I have friends in Calgary who are livid, simply livid, that this kind of non-democratic, crass politicking can go on.

OK, maybe it is crass politicking, but watch it when you say non-democratic. The new coalition of the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois would represent 54.4% of the Canadian popular vote in the 2008 election, compared to 37.7% for the Conservatives. I would say the majority of Canadians would be open to seeing if these guys and gals can make it work together.

The more interesting point may be, who will become Prime Minister? Stephane Dion, the Liberal leader, has said he will step down in May of 2009. The Bloc has said they want anybody but Stephane. And Ed Broadbent (NDP) and the wily old Jean Chretien (Lib) are in the background pulling the levers. Whoever it is, s/he's gotta be better than the incumbent.

Harper is palpably nervous. He has already backed down from a promise of cutting federal financing for political parties, hoping the Coalition was acting in a purely self-serving manner. No such luck - they apparently have the best interests of Canadians in mind.

This is Canadian poitical theatre at its best. And lucky me! I will be in Ottawa next week to celebrate, er, observe, the proceedings first-hand. I'll keep you posted from the nation's capital.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Enigmatic Mr Paulson

I've been doing some research on Hank Paulson lately and have come across some fascinating stuff. Seems the Treasury Secretary is a nature enthusiast, and is a keen herpetologist. Yes, the man loves snakes. Somewhat ironic, I thought, as many peg him to be one of them. He wanted to be a forest ranger when he was growing up, and when he did grow up, he kept all kinds of animals on the farm he had in Illinois. The menagerie included raccoons (that he let live in the house with the family) alligators, tarantulas, flying squirrels, and the more pedestrian pets too, dogs and cats.

But he loves snakes. And all manner of animals of prey. The article goes on to quote him: "I'm fascinated because they're at the top of the food chain." He goes on to posit a very interesting theory - that when those at the top of the food chain are healthy, the rest of the ecosystem is healthy too.

Clink! The penny has finally dropped. That is why he is doing what he is doing, namely bailing out his friends and enemies at the top of the food chain that is Enterprise America. If Wall Street eats, we all eat. But he is savvy enough to know he cannot actually say this out loud. Howls of indignation and outrage would result.

Strange though, as he is also a devout Christian Scientist and therefore believes that love trumps fear. So really, shouldn't he just offer us a big group hug and be done with it? But no, it seems in the real world, fear trumps love almost every time. One look at the markets lately will reinforce that.

And by the way, Mr Paulson, you can't live on love. Just ask the birds of prey you so respect about that one.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

An Historian's Night

There is no doubt about it. Barak Obama's decisive win last night in the US presidential race is one for the history books. And as much as I have tried to run away from history as a profession after spending the better part of my life training for it, I do like these kinds of historical moments. They are transfixing. And the Obama camp knew just how far to push the pomp and circumstance last night. He delivered a presidential speech; not that of a candidate. He was humble, yet inspiring; cautious, yet optimistic; folksy, yet conveying the aura of a leader. A difficult task, and, unfortunately, not the only one he will face in the next few months as he seeks to right the course of Good Ship America.

I have had only a few other days/nights/moments which I feel I can rate as historic. Of course, 9/11 was one. The feeling that the entire continent was numbed and huddled together in shock was one that I hope never to experience again. The Challenger disaster was another, although I must say I did not feel the same for poor Columbia. I do remember being distracted for some time when the first Gulf War began. I had just moved to the UK to do my PhD, and simply could not believe a war (other than the far, far away Falklands) could break out in my lifetime. I can barely remember Neil Armstrong's landing on the moon, although my parents allowed their five-year-old child to stay up for it. And to be honest I'm really not so sure to this day it actually even occurred. (Yes, I'm one of those people - the conspiranoiacs.)

I grew up with parents who lived through WWII in England. I always felt a certain envy as they had seen and lived real history.

Perhaps, as surreal as it seems the day after, just perhaps, I have too.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Why I Am the Way I Am

I've been meaning to post - I really have - but, well, you know....

I came across this the other day, and it pretty much explains why:

The Procrastinator's Code of Conduct

  • I believe that if anything is worth doing, it would have been done already.
  • I shall never move quickly, except to avoid more work or find excuses.
  • I will never rush into a job without a lifetime of consideration.
  • I shall meet all of my deadlines, directly in proportion to the amount of bodily injury I could expect to receive from missing them.
  • I truly believe all deadlines are unreasonable, regardless of the amount of time given.
  • I firmly believe that tomorrow holds the possibility for new technologies, astounding discoveries, and a reprieve from my obligations.
  • If at first you don't succeed, there is always next year.
  • I shall always decide not to decide, unless of course I decide to change my mind.
  • I shall always begin, start, initiate, take the first step, and/or write the first word, when I get around to it.
Truly words to live by. Oh, wait a minute - I already do....

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Neo-Citran Solution

So Congress has finally gone and done it. An $850 billion rescue/bailout/emergency bill passed today to try and stabilize the credit markets. But like Neo-Citran to a cold, this simply masks the underlying problem. The US is suffering from a bad case of Affluenza, and this is unlikely to cure their illness.

What is the underlying problem? Americans (and Canadians for that matter) spend more than they earn on a regular basis. They want all the newest toys their buddies have, and they want it now. Delayed gratification is no longer a virtue. So they live on credit, and would whine horrendously if that supply was suddenly cut off. So by greasing the wheels of the credit market by injecting $700 billion into it, what are the Americans actually accompishing? Nada. Zilch. Nothing. They are simply allowing their present system to continue, so Main Street doesn't have to realize there is a problem.

Here are some tough home truths for you:

1) Sometimes you don't deserve to have it.
2) Sometimes others do, who have lived longer and worked harder than you.
3) Buying stuff does not equate to buying happiness.

Americans (and Canadians, I might add yet again) need to take a week or so off and rest their credit chops on the couch and get over their Affluenza, not be enabled by their own government to work through the symptoms and soldier on into new levels of debt regardless.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Screen...

That's one of my favourite lines from the Wizard of Oz, and boy, the past couple of weeks, it seems we have all taken a little trip to that far-away land.

So what's been happening? History, my friends, nothing short of history. The Affluenza pandemic is here.

It looks like the US has thrown in the towel on capitalism and is trying socialism on for size. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - socialized; Bear Stearns - socialized; AIG - socialized. And now Hank Paulson wants a blank cheque (or rather, a cheque written out to him) to socialize another $700,000,000,000 (that's what $700 billion actually looks like) of US assets, to be named later.

Paulson knows how to throw money around, make no mistake about it. When he was Chairman of Goldman Sachs, he made $38 million in 2004 alone. Nice. That was a 21% increase over his paltry 2003 salary. But he was a generous man and liked to share, so the average salary - I repeat, the average salary - at Goldman Sachs in 2004 was over $500,000. It was actually $521,000, but who really cares about the $21,000 when you're making that kind of dough. But they weren't really making it, were they? - it was all leveraged to the tune of about 30:1. So if you do the crude math that only I am capable of, it looks like the employees really made $17,366.67 on average. The rest was leverage "pretend" money. Problem is, they still received it as real money and they will still get to keep it.

Not that Goldman Sachs was alone. Wall Street banks paid out the following bonuses over the past eight years: 2000 - $19.5 billion; 2002 - $8.6 billion; 2003 - $15.8 billion; 2004 - $18.6 billion; 2005 - $21.5 billion; 2006 - $33.9 billion; 2007 - $33.2 billion. Hell, there's $151.1 billion right there!

If I were an American, I'd be ticked off as all get-out at the men (and they seem to be all men - haven't seen a woman as part of this mess yet) behind the screen....

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Couple of Outrageous Examples...

It's not only the Calgary real estate market that is insane - Vancouver is pretty crazy too. A couple of quick examples...

A Calgary listing for $189,000, in an admittedly sub-prime (read: sketchy) area of the city. Land value only? Except that Calgary has no natural boundaries and just keeps expanding and expanding and expanding...

This one really had me scatching my head...I even checked MLS in Vancouver for accuracy. Seems that listing is no longer valid, but I did find this one listed for $1,149,000. Pure insanity. A 9-bedroom French chateau on 30 acres, or 2000 sq ft "Old timer" in Marpole, Vancouver West. Lest you think the French property is a hoax, check out a whole lot of similar chateaux here.

The inmates really are running the insane asylum.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Calgary Enters Fall...Hang onto Yer Hats!

That title is meant to be a double entendre. Seasonally, we are entering fall, no doubt about it. There is a crispness in the air that was lacking just a week ago. But we're also entering another fall. Seems to me a real estate fall is just around the corner too. The signs are there for those who care to read the tea leaves. Jayman Builders is laying off 40 employees, and the Gateway Midtown condo project is being "suspended" while it's just a big hole in the ground. I've heard the term "right-sizing" not "down-sizing" being bandied about. Give me a break. Whatever you call it, those people who lost their jobs, lost their jobs!

Now, I've been a bear about the Calgary real estate market since it took off in a fit of irrational exhuberance in 2006-07. It had to come back down to earth. The fundamentals dictated that. Those fundamentals include if first-time buyers cannot enter the market, the entire market cramps up. Well, we've got bad cramps right now. But people are greedy and still believe they deserve their pot of gold for a 1940s, 1950s, 1960s fixer-upper.

For those who think Calgary is immune because "we have oil", think about this: the market was just as cramped up and just as bottlenecked when oil was at $140/barrel as it was when oil was $100/barrel. Fundamentals, people. How much money people can afford to pay for housing on a monthly basis - that's the only indicator that really, truly matters.

We need to get over ourselves. We're not special. We're not unique. This is happening all over the world. And we're not London, NYC or Paris. We're a small-ish prairie city striving hard to be more than we are.

Calgary needs a good dose of reality, and methinks it is just around the corner.

Monday, August 11, 2008

It's August already? How did that happen?

OK. Best intentions and all that. I disappeared again. But in my defence, I have been very busy. One trip to Ottawa and one trip to Spain since my last post. And another upcoming trip to Ontario is on the horizon. Not to mention work - ah yes, WORK! Lots of it, and it's hard to get motivated to do it in the summer. And now the Olympics are on, which is one more huge distraction for Bast. Days of golf have occurred, as have dinners out with business associates scheming to take over the world one Commonwealth country at a time. Beware my friends in the UK and Australia - we may be coming to a virtual office near you in the future...

So I am back, and will hopefully live to post (more regularly) another day. But I've said that before and failed miserably. You really can't trust me, you know. But then again, what's trust got to do with it (with veiled apologies to Tina Turner)?


Friday, May 30, 2008

How Nice!

I had really thought that people wouldn't notice my somewhat protracted absence from the blogosphere. How nice that two people welcomed me back today! It's good to be missed.

I promise to try and post more often. Er, except next week when I'm in Ottawa. But no, really, I will try. I think I got a little burned out from writing as I actually started getting paid to do it. A freelance writer at last! But it doesn't pay well. Funny how that happens. You finally start doing something you've wanted to do all your life, and it doesn't live up to your expectations. Happened with my PhD too.

Good thing I never got married...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Quick One

Saw a cheeky sign on the ground today, obviously left by someone who was looking to solicit funds from passersby. It read: "$5 more needed for world domination. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!"

Shame the cheeky person who wrote it had already left. $5 for world domination? Cheap at half the price.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Winter of My Discontent...Scientifically Proven

I have been interested in the emerging research surrounding happiness, and have shared some of my findings with you in the past. And today brought another study, and everything started to make sense.

Seems that all humans share a type of happiness life cycle.The good news is that we start off happy and we end off happy. In the middle though, there is a significant period of unhappiness. The nadir of happiness has been scientifically proven to be 44. The age I turn this year? You guessed it.

This actually makes quite a bit of sense. I've felt off my game for the past few years. Not that I actually knew what my game was, which could easily be part of the problem. But now I'm feeling a bit ripped off. I always thought the 40s were the decade that women started to come into themselves and their power. Maybe they do, in spite of, or because of, this cycle.

Whatever the cycle, I suppose we all have to suffer through it. Apparently men also go through it, although their 50s are their danger decade.

So I am prepared to make the best of it this next year, but am going to be a bit more indulgent with myself. I know, I know - you're asking yourselves, " Can she be any more self-indulgent??" Hah! Just watch me. I will eat more chocolate, gamble more money, and watch more episodes of Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galatica than is normal for one person.

And that, dear friends, is how I will while away the year that was the dreaded 44. Oh, and renovate the bathroom at the condo...